|Platforms||PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series, Microsoft Windows|
Over the past two weeks, Blizzard has conducted two beta tests of Diablo IV, both of which were limited to the prologue and the first act, but allowed to form an idea of the changes that took place in the next part of the series, the release of which is scheduled for June of this year. Before I share my impressions, I would like to point out that this will be a very subjective assessment, because the game finally gave me personally what the second and third parts could not. Your expectations could be completely different.
Diablo IV brings horror back to the series. Of course, we are not talking about a traditional horror game, we are still dealing with an Action RPG, in which the main task of the player is to carry tons of loot and click on packs of enemies 24/7. One of the main reasons for my sincere love for the first Diablo lies in that fantastic atmosphere of chamber Lovecraftian horror, which was eventually lost in the later parts. A small town cut off from the rest of the world and practically abandoned by its inhabitants, which is gradually engulfed by an unspeakable ancient nightmare, dark catacombs, where the echoes of groans, the rattling of bones, and the creaking of stone slabs are heard, hellish creatures, rumors of which are whispered, rise from the darkness, heaps of dismembered bodies and blood covering the floor of an abandoned cathedral, even the ending here is far from happy, offering only hope for a short respite before evil returns again. All this contrasts so much with the sequels, in which cheerful imps comically cry: “Rakanishu!”, hellish porcupines shoot thorns, pygmies jump on each other’s shoulders, mummies and cat girls run around in the deserts, and bosses use the pathetic clichéd lines reminding you of the antagonists from the golden age comics. So in my rating, neither Diablo 2 nor even Diablo 3 could beat the first part, even though they are objectively better in terms of gameplay.
So, Diablo IV is as close to the same lost atmosphere as it is possible to get, given the fact that the events now take place in a relatively open world. Suffering from the consequences of the Eternal Conflict, the Sanctuary was already on the verge of decline, and after the return of Lilith, the situation worsened catastrophically. The people still staying in remote settlements vainly beg the rebellious archangel Inarius for salvation, while outside the walls of their holy temples, cultists make bloody sacrifices to Lilith, hellish demons come to the surface, and the dead rise from the graves. Actually, the pursuit of Lilith will be the task of our hero, who by and large just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, periodically distracted by side tasks that often end with exorcism rites in a dark basement, a visit to an abandoned prison for insane murderers, filled with bloodthirsty spirits, or simply being skinned alive during sexual games with a demoness.
Visually, the game matches the tone set by the plot, at least within the first act available in the beta. There are half-ruined buildings, hastily built outposts, and cities devoid of pathos and grace, even in the temple of Inarius there is hopelessness and despair. There is no place for Blizzard’s signature art style, which boldly works with bright colors, and stylization dominates realism. Ridiculous monsters are also a thing of the past (apart from the blue necromancer skeletons, I know they make everyone cringe), just compare the new fallen shaman to what came before to see what I’m talking about.
However, updated graphics and a dramatic story won’t go far if we’re talking about Diablo, so let’s take a look at what changes have happened to the gameplay. It all starts with a simple character editor, which is unlikely to change in the final version of the game. Taking into account the fact that the hero will now often appear in cutscenes, I would like to have the possibility of finer customization of the appearance, but what is now allows you to create a more or less unique character, and let’s be honest, in Diablo, there is much more value to the appearance of armor rather than the shape of your character’s nose or voice. And the armor here looks very epic, the designers did their best.
The prologue is not too different from the first hour in any part of the series, but after going beyond the starting location and discovering several new skills, we already get the first full impressions, due to which the players are now divided into two camps. Some like the more measured pace of the combat, while others complain about the inability to constantly roll, thus speeding up the movement of the character. Yes, the dynamics, and sometimes the mechanics of the combat have become a little closer to those in the first part – ranged fighters have the ability to destroy most of the enemies from a safe distance, but are very vulnerable in close contact, it will not be possible to quickly escape from the encirclement, you have to sacrifice one or more of the six available slots for defensive spells that increase survivability, while the barbarian will first have to run up to the enemies, then for a while gain fury by slicing them with normal attacks, and only then use more powerful blows. As a result, we have a situation where a wizard easily runs through dungeons, while a barbarian has to literally cut his way, spending more time. The developers will obviously still work on the balance, but for me, this situation has not become a problem, the barbarian turned out to be very interesting due to the fact that he can carry 4 types of weapons at the same time, and as he learns new skills, he becomes no less deadly than other classes. As for the necromancer nerf, I would not mind seeing him, visually it is the most attractive character, my sincere respect to those people who were responsible for the design of the sets for the necromancer, but it is very easy to play as him, the old tried and tested scheme with raising a pile of undead and blowing up the corpses of enemies works reliably like a Swiss watch: the room is cleared in seconds, it is not at all difficult except for bosses who do not call minions for help.
I would also like to mention the redesigned healing system, which is like a mix of Diablo 3 and Immortal. The character now carries healing bottles, the number and quality of which will increase over time, and can knock out refills from monsters, like healing spheres in Diablo 3, but their difference is that they do not start working immediately, but restore the supply of already spent bottles. A rather elegant solution in my opinion, it’s now harder to heal endlessly like in Diablo 3, and you don’t have to micro-manage dozens of bottles like in older games in the series.
And while we’re talking about skills, talent trees also cause some controversy in the community. We now have skill clusters, with new clusters becoming available after investing talent points into previous ones. The problem is that, despite the formal flexibility of such a system, in fact, it does not make much sense and is not very convenient from the point of view of user experience. No one will invest points into the fire, ice arrows, and electric charge at the same time – it’s irrational because you can’t learn all the available spells, so you will be forced to choose only a few development directions from all possible ones, why then put them in the same cluster, wouldn’t it be more logical to follow the division into branches of talents according to the elements?
Otherwise, everything is not bad with the development of the character, except that the lack of ability to distribute stat points will not please someone. You can create both builds that have been tested since the time of Diablo 2, and look for your own, the low cost of resetting spent talents and the specificity of items contributes to this. The thing is that items can have a characteristic that increases certain skills or increases damage to enemies under certain conditions, and these bonuses can be so significant that you will be forced to at least try to move away from the usual build and try something new. Unfortunately, the developers have confirmed that in the final version of the game redistribution of talents at high levels will be a very expensive pleasure, so there is a fear that instead of experimenting on their own, players will resort to min/max and will farm the same equipment with the same build from online tutorials. Actually, this strategy ruined the endgame for me in the second and third parts.
By the way, regarding items: the game has a rather specific system of creating, processing, and improving items. Now you can flip characteristics, extract a unique property from one item to put it on another, and so on. However, it was not possible to fully evaluate it on the beta, because there was no need to engage in crafting: with the vendor of curiosities, who sells random things for the local analog of bloody fragments, there’s a very high chance of getting legendary items, and the game itself is not very stingy with good loot, so you can spend resources and time creating the thing you want and half an hour later get something much better. Although I’m sure that after the release the drop rate will be tightened, it is generally obvious that this system, like potion brewing, will fully work only in the endgame and at the highest difficulty levels. There was no benefit from them in beta.
And finally, it is necessary to address the fact that Diablo IV will have MMORPG elements, and this brings certain nuances. First, the game requires a constant connection to the network, which is not surprising these days. But Blizzard’s infamous server problems will be a problem, at least for a while. And we’re talking not only about the queues for connecting to the game, which look very strange if you just want to play solo but also about input lag, response time, and other nuances related to lag. In both closed and public beta, my character was thrown around the screen both when going from location to location and just moving around town, bringing back memories of when I played Ultima Online on US servers with a half-live dial-up connection. And even when the connection was seemingly stable, I never, I emphasize – never managed to run out of the AoE zone in time, even using a roll. Is there any confidence that the developers will deal with these issues and the release will go smoothly? Hmm… I won’t say anything, considering literally every Blizzard release in the last fifteen years.
The second point is the other players with whom you will have to share the Sanctuary, whether you want it or not. The game, of course, uses zoning, and as long as you go through a story quest or dungeon, the location remains personal, but after the end of the story stage, it becomes public, so both in cities and outside of them you will run next to other players. This makes it easier to deal with random events and kill world bosses, but the immersion in the game suffers a bit. I wouldn’t turn down the ability to create an offline character, at least for the first few playthroughs. Well, of course, since we are already talking about a multiplayer game, we can’t forget about the battle pass. There are no surprises here: seasonal cosmetics, accelerated upgrading of characters, and premium currency for purchasing cosmetics in the game. Apparently, nothing new, but it looks a bit like overkill for a game that is already distributed at the prices of the new generation.
In conclusion, I want to say that as of now I am definitely satisfied with what I saw in the beta – the game finally looks like what Diablo should look like, it is a gloomy and dark gothic fantasy that tries to combine the best of the previous parts and seems to do it is successful. Diablo IV is unlikely to be a breakthrough or a new word in the genre, it’s just that Blizzard seems to finally do some real work on the bugs. Well, we have to wait for June to see if this work will be successful.